January 15th, 2007

Is News A Fundamentally Shared, Social Experience?

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Findory, a personalized news service created by Greg Linden, who worked on Amazon’s groundbreaking personalization engine, will be put on autopilot as Greg steps away from the effort. Om Malik comments:

Despite being drop dead simple, Findory never realized its true potential as an information discovery engine. It has all the makings of being a personal memetracker, something a lot of folks have been clamoring for. In contrast the general purpose memetrackers that follow conversations, like Techmeme and Tailrank keep growing.

I wonder whether the great success of TechMeme (and Memeorandum, Gabe Rivera’s other site on politics) and Digg , vs. the failure of Findory to catch on, is evidence that news is a fundamentally shared, social experience. Despite all the hype about the “user in control,” purely personalized news may be too much control, a slippery slope that leads to solipsism. The proverbial “water cooler” is symbolic of our fundamental need to share the news, to validate our experiences by sharing them with others. How can there be “conversation” if we’re all talking about something different?

Perhaps the good old fashioned niche is as personalized as we need to get. TechMeme and Digg are highly niche sites, and thus are tailored to the specific interests of their users without getting so personalized as to break the bonds of community.

There’s also the advantage of constantly pushing the boundaries of your personal interests. Users depend on TechMeme and Digg to show them interesting content that they never would have thought would be interesting to them — it’s the power of serendipity and discovery that comes when you ride along with a larger community of interest.

The same theory can be applied to other technologies. The iPod — and soon the iPhone — is a shared experience. The iPod spread so fast because we felt an instant bond with other iPod owners.

  • If right, this means that there is an enduring consumer demand for something shared, and that personalisation will never fully take off in general-purpose news services. It also means that the 'static' nature of much of today's web may be a happy accident and an enduring feature: for all the talk about web 2.0 Ajax magic, the web is a shared space only for as long as what I see is what you see. More here.

  • Scott Karp, you have made a few very good comments.....
    Check this site out...

    www.yournewsday.com.

    Seems like they have taken the lead in bringing user generated unbiased news.
    News to the next level..Your News.

  • Contrary to myth, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of real interest in personalization. If you look closely, the hype is more gurus saying people should want it, than that people do want it.

    TechMeme does something I call “serve the A-list”, in that it gives high attention earners even more attention, and focuses on mining what’s getting a lot of attention. It’s really a very top-down system at heart.

    I wouldn't say "news *is* ...". But rather, "The money and the attention is in the Big Heads".

    Findory was an interesting idea and I'm sorry to see it go.

  • Spot on - recommendation engines without an explicit social aspect have felt like an echo chamber to me when I've tried to use them. One of my colleagues has bitterly complained about Google News' efforts in this direction as well - as he puts it, "I go to Google News to see what the world is talking about, and that includes the significance of placement on the front page of the NYTimes." Being fed stories based on previous interest is the wrong behavior here. We could just use the Goog or Findory to find the specific news stories that interest us, use the right terminology (e.g. "estate tax" vs. "death tax"), or deal with the small range of topics we're already familiar with, but this would be a self-imposed narrowing of horizons. I'm enjoying the opposite effect of web news - connecting with a broader population of interest.

  • I wonder -- has anyone seen an engine of this ilk that is useful for local?

    We're launching one soon, but I'd love to kick the tires on others if they're about:
    http://www.pegasusnews.com/about/dailyyou/

    I reached out to Greg about licensing Findory technology before we built our own, but there was no interest.

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